The Fantasy and Reality of Sibling Relationships
By Nikki Gaspari
Modern day children’s books and movies teach us that siblings are supposed to be the ones who are there for us through thick and thin. No matter what happens, they will be the ones to support us. If there is a falling out, they will be able to see AND understand our side of the story. At the end, the conflict will work itself out and they again will be the person fighting alongside us.
In A Series of Unfortunate Events The Baudelaire children have each other’s support through (for lack of a more accurate description) a series of unfortunate events. In The Parent Trap, the twins go so far as to trade identities and moving to different countries in order to re-unite their parents and thus be reunited themselves. In Harry Potter, all four of the Weasley children band together to help fight a common enemy threatening the safety and future direction of their world. All of these siblings seem to have inseparable bonds with which they are able to work together to fight through tremendous adversity for the common good of their worlds.
But what about the siblings who don’t get along and do not share a common goal? What about the siblings whose fight seems to occur against each other rather than against a separate, greater entity? Our society seems to keep these siblings hidden. One would have to dig deeper into the archives than simply scroll through what ‘Netflix’ suggests. Additionally, who actually wants to sit down and watch a movie that is all too relatable to their happenstance when instead they could watch a movie that helps them “feel good”? Modern day movies help us to vicariously live through characters to help our subconscious feel as though we were able to achieve something that day.
When watching these movies, we create potential to send the message to our children that our family is not doing it right or their relationship with their sibling should be different. Don’t get me wrong, I continue to watch these movies and cannot wait until my niece is old enough to watch Harry Potter with me. I am, however, weary about the messages our society teaches us about how relationships “should” look.
The overarching questions become: How can we be okay that our relationship with our siblings may always involve butting heads and rivalry? How do we help ourselves accept that our children’s relationship may never be like those portrayed in the movies? How do we help ourselves accept that no matter how much we do and how much we invest in our children’s relationship, they may never foster a strong, supportive bond? How do we normalize our children’s experience around the idea that some siblings just can’t ever see eye to eye?
As our children get older, the façade becomes clearer to them: many siblings do not get along. Most rivalries and resentments last until long after the children have “flown the coop”. How do we help older siblings grieve their loss of being the only child? How do we help our younger children see that they did not do something wrong by simply being born, even though the older child may harbor this resentment and may perceive this to be true?
Unfortunately, I do not have the answers to any of these questions. Like every other realm of our lives we cannot control how others perceive us, we can only control how we choose to respond to them. I say that last part lightly, as sometimes, particularly when it comes to siblings and family, our skillset gets thrown out of the window and we instantly fall back into old habits and patterns only to realize it days after we’ve departed from them. All we can do is keep trying while also holding that some relationships are better left untampered or treaded lightly.
May we be able to recognize when it is worth trying and recognize when it is worth walking away, even if for just a minute.